After Sunday at NXL Chicago 2018 came to a close, I took a little bit to think about how exactly this post was going to go and my conclusion was…I’ve got nothing. It’s strange that something that’s been a huge part of my life and one of the most influential things that directly affected me is now over which I’m doing under my own power. Make no mistake, without paintball I’m not making this post, I’m not taking photos at all, and I don’t have the people that I call friends that I’ve met through photography as a whole.
I’ll save the sappy stuff until the very end so this won’t be like an online food recipe where you have to scroll past the personal story for 5 minutes to get what you’re looking for, let’s dig into the event!
The National Xball League made its yearly stop to Chicago and with it came the all too familiar weather everyone in this sport knows and loves, sweltering heat. Over 200 teams had signed up for the event hoping for their shot at glory, with teams in the divisional brackets all the way up to pro. The game has seen a lot of formats at the national tournament level come and go, currently if you’re playing xball you have a certain amount of time (D4, D3: 12 mins, D2, Semi-Pro, Pro: 15 mins) to score as many points as possible. You can also mercy rule another team and end the match before time runs out, an example is San Antonio X-Factor beat Edmonton Impact 7-1 which knocked Impact out of the playoffs on Sunday because the mercy rule for pro is 6. I was shooting this event for PbNation, thanks John for getting me in!
Friday was a pretty slow day for me, I hadn’t shot paintball in 3 years so there were some adjustments since I was getting back into the flow of things. This also happened to be the third time I’ve ever shot with my new setup, a Canon 1DX Mark II and a 400mm f/2.8 IS I. Since the camera is so new, I’ve been messing around with my settings to get it where I really like it and didn’t get things dialed in until the afternoon. Because I didn’t book any teams the whole weekend I took it pretty easy and bounced around to all the different fields to shoot what I wanted.
The layout for this event was a lot of fun, there was a lot of action on the snake side and getting a kill in the snake opened up the field quite a bit. A lot of teams too were pushing up to the 50 snake (midfield), but since the lanes were so well concealed at certain points you’d sometimes get players on each side of a bunker. It was really fun to watch, most layouts will have teams sitting in their spots and letting other teams run into their guns but this layout really favored those that pushed and were aggressive. By Sunday the games usually play a little slower because it’s playoffs and you don’t want to drop the first point so moves are more calculated but I never really felt like points dragged on like they used to in the PSP.
Another thing with this format is that it’s called the “Split Deck” format, it was taken from the European leagues (I believe the Millennium series) and the way it works is that one set of teams will play their point and then when that’s finished, they come off the field and another set of teams will play their point. Rinse, repeat. If you make finals, though, it goes to xball where you have a couple minutes between points before you have to get back out there. This is where having a really good pit crew comes into play because teams will come off the field and get wiped down from any paint that’s on their jerseys/pants/packs and gives them time to get more paint and pods so that they’re ready to go. This tournament was a little different because with the sun going down earlier, it became hard to see so D4x and D3x finals ran split deck, same with D2x and Semi Pro. I stuck around for a couple points of the pro finals because the light was getting to the point where it was useable but you had some pretty harsh shadows. I was also exhausted from being in 90*F heat for 3 days and we were driving back home that night. Moscow Red Legion ended up beating the LA Ironmen 5-2.
Paintball for me always had a countdown, this wasn’t going to last forever. I started playing in 2004 and started taking photos in 2009 but I was never going to be a lifetime guy; as much as I wanted to believe differently, I wasn’t going to play pro paintball because I lacked the skills and ambition to really pursue it. Paintball photography was a great step, maybe even the most important step, in getting into sports photography and getting a feeling for what it’s going to be like on the sidelines. The joke with paintball is that no matter how much you say you’ll quit you never really do. That definitely applied to me in 2012 when I said I was done and 2015 after NXL Cleveland when I said I was going to be done too. This time, I sincerely mean it. It’s just not something I can commit time to anymore and in all honesty, I don’t want to commit time to it so when Sunday rolled around I said my goodbyes because there’s no telling when I’m going to see my friends I’ve made through this sport again. It’s just another chapter of my life that’s closing, this one just ended up being the most important one.
There’s one person that made photography possible for me and that’s my buddy Sean Suriano. In 2009 I had mentioned that it’d be cool to get into photography and since he was a paintball photographer, he invited me out to Vegas for a USPL event which was essentially the NPPL, an old national tournament series that was 7 man. That weekend, I met a group of guys that helped shape my photography for the better and are guys I still think about and miss whenever I shoot. If you ever look at my Instagram you’ll notice it says “PhotoMOB until I die” and that’s what we named our group after that weekend. If I hadn’t gone on that trip I honestly don’t think I would’ve gotten into photography and you wouldn’t be looking at this post right now. As fun as it is to say “Fuck paintball” I have a deep appreciation for this sport because none of this happens without it and without Sean inviting me to Vegas. Since those chain of events happened, I’ve got a decent list of accomplishments to my name in my still young career.
So this is the end, my last post about paintball. Thanks for reading, if we ever connected on or off the field then know that I appreciate you. There’s been some amazing people I’ve met but I specifically want to thank Sean, Dan, Carl, Stretch, Jimmy, Skip, Robbo (for really organizing the PhotoMOB), and John for getting me into the event for PbNation. We never got a group picture of every single person that calls themselves part of the MOB, but this one in particular will be my favorite because this was the night we all came together and everything changed.